While MCCC has less diversity than other colleges, numbers are on the rise.
Since the election of Donald Trump, tensions in the country have been hurtling towards a breaking point. Aside from Trump’s inflammatory comments about Mexicans and women on the campaign trail, things have gotten worse.
The tragic events in Charlottesville are still fresh in the minds of many, to say nothing of the recent attempted lynching of an eight-year-old multiracial boy in New Hampshire.
But on the MCCC campus, things seem inclusive. It does not appear that many people have experienced racism or hatred here.
“I know I’m different, but I’ve never felt that I’ve been judged because of that,” says Nicole Wilson, a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). “I’ve always felt really safe here. I feel like the professors take into account my intelligence and not the color of my skin, which I love.”
Wilson is biracial, with a white mother and black father.
“She’s a baby boomer,” Wilson says of her mother, “so whenever they saw biracial children, her mom would be like, ‘Oh, well, I
always feel bad for the biracial kids because they’re always stuck in the in-between.’
“I think it’s really funny because now she has a biracial grandchild!”
The presence of multiracial people like Wilson has dramatically increased in the last half decade. Before 2013, biracial people were not included on the college’s demographics report, the Student Profile. And even then, only four biracial students were in attendance. As of 2016, there are 22.
In general, ethno-racial diversity has been on the increase in the last year, following the college’s emergence from an extended period of hemorrhaging numbers. The only number that decreased between 2015 and 2016 was the amount of Caucasian students. That said, they still comprise the vast majority of the student body at 84 percent.
But diversity is not defined by race alone, as Psychology professor Melissa Grey explains.
“One of the ways we think about and estimate diversity is in terms of social characteristics like age, gender, religion, race,” she says. “So it depends on which aspect of diversity we might be thinking about.
“In terms of some of the most common forms of visible diversity, like race, we’re not very diverse. You compare us to other colleges and to other regions, our demographics are white and heterosexual, and so is the county.”
In terms of MCCC, Grey says, racial and ethnic diversity are comparatively better than the county, while age is comparatively worse.
Gender and sexuality may be our biggest forms of nonvisible diversity on-campus. However, what they lack in obvious visibility, they make up for in involvement.
“Arguably the most active organization on campus is the Gay-Straight Alliance,” says Kojo Quartey, the president of the college.
The club is advised by Grey. It is notable for its bake sales and the Pride Prom it hosts annually, among numerous other activities.
“A lot of the LGBT community – we stick together,” says Basil Wampler, who prefers non-gendered they/them pronouns. “Even if you’re not LGBT, you kind of group. I feel like, from those small groups, we’re really diverse in that category at least.”
“It’s nice being in GSA because I feel like it fit in,” says Wilson, who is a straight ally. “I feel like it’s a family that have opened their arms to me and have said, ‘We’re here for you and we’re here if you want to talk about stuff.’”
“I believe the longer I’ve been here, the more diverse people have become,” says Hunter Wright. “When I was first here, it was kind of like ‘eh,’ but it’s gotten a lot better.”
So MCCC has an inclusive campus that allows for minorities such as the LGBTQIA community to have an active voice. However, are we diverse enough?
“The quick answer is… no,” says Quartey, who continues by frankly stating there is a lack of visible minorities.
“I think there’s been an improvement over the last few years. But not enough… I think that if we are to make progress in this county, we need to get to where the country is going.”
He’s not alone in this viewpoint at all.
“Well, if you want to just get straight down to it,” says student Joe Costello, “I don’t see a huge diversity."
“I see some here and there. But a lot of people don’t know who they’re dealing with; they’re not sure what nationality people are. They’re not sure because, if you look around, everybody pretty much looks the same.”
Costello is no stranger to mistaken identity. He mentions having been mistaken for both Hispanic and Arab, while actually being of Italian and French descent.
“I remember when I first came here two years ago, I was kind of shocked,” says Javed Peracha, Student Government treasurer for the 2016-2017 school year.
He is currently in the United States on a student visa. Originally hailing from Pakistan, he notes he’s typically one of the only people of color in his classes.
“I definitely think we could have more diversity. But thank God, so far I feel welcome,” he says.
With all this information, how do we then go about solving the problem and improve our diversity?
“If our goal is to create diverse, enriching, interesting experiences, it’s probably too simplistic to just grab people for diversity’s sake,” says Grey.
“We don’t want to bring people in just because ‘oh, we don’t have enough people from your group.’ We want to be a place where everybody wants to come. We want to have a college where, regardless of your background, you want to be here.”
“Diversity has become this bizarre buzzword in many ways,” says Edmund La Clair, professor of History. “It really should be about trying to understand the variety of experiences between people on the campus.
“I think we do make strong efforts to do that, but at a community college it’s difficult to build that kind of institutional longevity that might be useful for emphasizing these different viewpoints and experiences.”
What is institutional longevity, anyway?
Simply put, it is the length of time the college maintains its students. As La Clair notes, students spend an average of three years at MCCC before graduating or transferring. It’s a short window in which to get involved in the college’s clubs and form new ones.
La Clair isn’t the only one with concerns.
“For example,” says Quartey, “we don’t have a Black Student Union on campus. How do we then recruit more black students to come here? At some larger campuses, you have organizations like that who go and recruit individuals of similar backgrounds.”
The college does have committees for this, both La Clair and Quartey note – the Countywide Diversity and Campus Diversity Committees. But are they enough? Quartey proposes the notion of developing a comprehensive diversity plan for MCCC.
In the long run, it seems that diversity could stand to improve. And it’s not just an administrative project. Students can help out as well.
“Diversity comes in all forms. There needs to be a deliberate effort on all our parts,” Quartey says.
“If you know of any students of diverse backgrounds, for example, who are interested in going to the college, they should be encouraged to come here. This is a place where we are sort of a family. We make people feel at home.”